So here are some of the things I expect to see in a Salman Khan film – the superstar playing a charming, irreverent superhero; a largely incoherent script that exists only to showcase him as a superhero; a largely irrelevant heroine who needs rescuing from some foolish villains; low IQ comedy and a few crackling one-liners.
Here’s what I don’t expect to find – a coherent, emotionally satisfying script; Salman underplaying his supersized image; a heroine with some spunk; drama that actually moves you, and tears. Yes, It has happened – I’ve cried in a Salman Khan film.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan is simplistic, occasionally silly and tiringly over-stretched. It’s also unashamedly manipulative but it works. Director and co-writer Kabir Khan preserves the larger-than-life Salman Khan image but he also evolves it so that Salman is not just a slick superman. Instead, he’s a simpleton who teaches us that humanity stands above religion, borders and politics. Think of him as another PK – only this one is human instead of alien.
Bajrangi’s real name is Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi. He is called Bajrangi because he an ardent Hanuman bhakt. This is a man so child-like and morally upright that he says Jai Sree Ram to a prostitute and insists on entering Pakistan without a passport or a visa but with the permission of the security officer who apprehends him at the border. Why is he so keen to go across? Because a lost, mute, six-year old girl from Pakistan needs to be reunited with her mother. When all other methods fail, Bajrangi decides that he will do it himself. If you’re reminded of Randhir Kapoor’s 1991 film Henna, yes the story is similar. But by making the displaced character a child, Kabir and his writer V. Vijayendra Prasad, have made the plot more potent.
In fact the biggest weapon in Kabir’s artillery is the angelic Harshali Malhotra. She’s refreshingly unaffected. She seems unfazed by Salman. Harshali has a heart-breaking innocence. For the viewer, it’s love at first sight. You invest in her instantly and her tears wring your heart out.
Salman gets the requisite thundering action sequence. And yes, he does have a shirtless scene but it doesn’t showcase his towering masculinity. Actually, he’s being beaten up. Bajrangi is interesting because he’s not invincible. Of course we know that he will eventually make miracles happen but he also bleeds and breaks. Salman plays Bajrangi with aplomb. He’s endearingly naïve and sweetly vulnerable. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, playing a small time television reporter, comes into the film late but he’s worth the wait. Unlike the character he played in Kick, Nawazuddin gets no flashy moments. But he has a few terrific lines and he flies with them. Kareena Kapoor Khan has the most under-written part but even she gets one good scene. And as usual, her clothes make an impression. I was making mental notes of some gorgeous dupattas. Om Puri’s playing a maulana in Pakistan is also memorable.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan trips on length – it’s too long and the several songs don’t serve the narrative much. The plot is both convenient and convoluted. There are scenes, which will make you groan. There is also an unapologetic lack of subtlety – Kabir goes full throttle for your heartstrings and doesn’t let go. This is an overblown, old fashioned, feel-good film. I recommend that you surrender and keep a hanky handy.
And here’s another recommendation. In 68 years since the Partition, we haven’t made much headway with our neighbors. Perhaps it’s time to give our politicians a rest. I say: let’s send Salman.
I’m going with three and a half stars.